Looking puffier and more disgruntled every day, plus-size White House spokesmodel Donald Trump has now been in office for just over a month—except when he’s weekending at Mar-a-Lago, of course. And what does America want? America wants closure, that’s what. On one side of our big divide, millions of people are exasperated that he hasn’t been impeached yet. On the other, Trump’s fans are annoyed that America isn’t yet great again. At least some of them are also catching on that their own lives might not look so hot if Obamacare is dismantled, undocumented immigrants aren’t around anymore to handle all those crummy agriculture and janitorial jobs and so on.
Meanwhile, the collateral damages of electing him keep piling up. For instance, it apparently never occurred to MAGA enthusiasts that working overtime to turn the United States into one heck of a menacing-looking, unfriendly country might discourage foreigners from coming here even on visits—not only Muslims, which was the idea, but pretty much everybody. According to Frommers, the “Trump Slump” in international travel to the U.S. already has the tourism industry worried, and no wonder: curiosity seekers and business travelers from abroad added $246 billion to our economy as recently as 2015. Considering how many resorts and fancy-pants hotels Trump owns, that ought to be making our spokesmodel think twice about what he spews. The problem is that he’s hardly shown he’s capable of thinking even once.
He’s going to look awfully silly briefing Breitbart’s dork in an otherwise empty auditorium.
In fact, even before his unhinged press conference last week and Saturday’s gotta-love-me rally in Florida, not to mention his CPAC speech, it was becoming obvious that Trump’s only idea of how to be president is to go on campaigning for president. So long as the most truculent share of his base stays exhilarated, he’ll stay convinced he’s doing well. Even though they haven’t seen any improvement in their own circumstances, and most likely [spoiler alert] never will, they can still relish his contempt for everybody else, from the non-Breitbart media (newly upgraded from “fake news” to “the enemy of the people”) to those pesky Jews. Trump had to be badgered for weeks before he finally coughed up an unconvincing denunciation of the anti-Semitic hate crimes that have been spiking since his inaugural. But we were back to business as usual as soon as press secretary Sean Spicer pissed all over the Anne Frank Center—the Anne Frank Center!—for calling the statement inadequate, which it was.
Nonetheless, except in Steve Bannon’s vilest alt-right fantasies, Jews don’t yet seem to be at any risk of being banned from entering the country or deported if they’re already here. And lucky Jared and Ivanka, wouldn’t you say? Despite having been blocked by the courts the first time around, Trump’s Muslim travel ban hasn’t gone away; it’s just being tinkered with before its second roll-out to make its ugliness subtler. Harsher still is the Department of Homeland Security’s newly unveiled plan for massive deportations of undocumented immigrants, which is downright breathtaking in its unconcern with the turmoil, wrecking-ball economic consequences and large-scale human misery likely to smack us all in the face if it’s implemented. Won’t it be a patriotic thrill to watch those roundups every night on TV, assuming you’re not caught in one?
Trump wants us to believe that he’s going after dangerous people, but he isn’t. He’s going after vulnerable and easily demonized ones, right down to the transgender schoolchildren who once again can’t even take a leak in the “wrong” bathroom without, apparently, causing the country more harm than Osama bin Laden ever did. Before backtracking somewhat in the face of protests, even Trump’s Agriculture Department merrily scrubbed animal-abuse records from its website, doing its part to make America great again by advertising that cruelty is cool again.
The basic disconnect is that Trump’s administration is forging ahead to turn his most divisive, least productive campaign promises into realities at the same time his presidency looks like it could go off the rails any day, and nobody knows which will happen first. (They can’t possibly both happen, can they? Or can they?) His poll numbers are spectacularly lousy for someone this new to the job (but fantastic among his base), the mainstream press he’s out to delegitimize is reacting by finally (about time!) growing a pair, the scramble for supremacy among his White House staffers makes the contestants on Survivor or Big Brother look civilized, and the New Republic thinks he’s got syphilis. In other news, Russiagate looks likely to go on biting him on the ass until the day it starts gnawing his hairdo.
Starting with the CIA, Trump has never appreciated the downside of antagonizing institutional forces with the resources to hit back. Besides being yet another insult to the memory of our Bowling Green dead, barring the New York Times, CNN and Politico from White House press briefings, as Spicer did on Friday, is the sort of bunker-mentality move that could make even Americans with fairly vague notions of freedom of the press start suspecting that the real “enemy of the people” isn’t who POTUS keeps braying it is. (According to one recent poll, they still trust the media more than they do Trump, which must infuriate him.) Notably, Time magazine and the Associated Press both walked out on Spicer in protest. If that kind of press solidarity snowballs, he’s going to look awfully silly briefing Breitbart’s dork in an otherwise empty auditorium.
Thanks to all this, the Capitol Hill GOP is watching its dream of quietly dismantling what’s left of the welfare state while POTUS’s bluster keeps everyone distracted go down in flames. The nationwide upsurge in political activism since Trump’s inaugural is the opposite of what they hoped for. Congressional Republicans are so unused to pushback from their energized constituents that they’re either fleeing their own town halls or whining that all these angry people are fakes, either “paid” (Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz) or, heaven help us, “organized.” Just why the latter charge invalidates the anger is unclear, but the implication is that voters are supposed to be docile. “Winners make policy, and losers go home,” as Mitch McConnell put it, advertising his contempt for citizen input anytime after Election Day.
Back at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the only White House news this week that should have made anybody sensible breathe a sigh of relief was the appointment of H.R. McMaster (known to his friends as “H.R. McMaster”) as National Security Adviser, replacing the disgraceful Michael Flynn. What makes the choice revealing is that this Gulf War tank commander turned strategic thinker has an impressive reputation as everything Trump hates in a subordinate: brainy, principled, realistic, and a man who’s never hedged his opinions to suit his bosses’ priorities. In other words, Trump has been reduced to picking someone dedicated to serving the United States, not Trumplandia, and it must have been a bitter pill for him.
That’s because even token concessions to sanity just aren’t his thing. He promised to change America, and he has. Newly galvanized, but mostly by opposition to him, this turbulent, unnerving, seesawing country is what the United States looks like one month into his administration. Repeat: One. Month. There can’t possibly be anyone who still thinks Trump can sustain operating this way for four years. One way or another, something’s going to have to give.